Hamilton not only Formula One rookie with impressive start

Rookie substitute driver Sebastian Vettel isn't as heralded as rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton, but he's made history nonetheless, writes Dan Knutson.

Updated: June 22, 2007, 10:11 AM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

Rookie Lewis Hamilton grabbed most of the headlines by sweeping the North American Grand Prix double-header with the first two F1 wins of his career.

F1 Crash
Thompson/Getty ImagesSebastian Vettel at least avoided the scrum in Turn 1 at the beginning of the U.S. Grand Prix.

But another driver carved out a piece of history as well.

With his eighth-place finish in the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sebastian Vettel became the first teenager to score an F1 world championship point.

Jenson Button previously held the record as the youngest F1 points earner.

He was 20 years and 66 days old in 2000 when he finished sixth in his second-ever Grand Prix start, in Brazil, driving a Williams BMW.

Germany's Vettel was 19 years and 287 days old when he finished eighth at Indy in his BMW Sauber.

F1's points system has changed a bit over the years. When the FIA introduced the modern world championship in 1950, the top five finishers plus the driver who set the fastest lap earned points.

From 1960 on, the top six were awarded points. And since 2003, the top eight finishers get points.

Vettel's chance to make his F1 debut came at the misfortune of another youngster -- 22-year-old Robert Kubica, who had that horrendous accident in the Canadian Grand Prix. While Kubica escaped relatively unscathed, he did suffer a light concussion, and doctors would not let him race in Indianapolis a week later because of the risk of a secondary concussion should he crash again.

As BMW Sauber's prime test and reserve driver, Vettel took over Kubica's seat.

"Of course, I am looking forward to my first F1 race," Vettel said, "but I wish it had come under different circumstances. It's never nice if a teammate can't drive because he had an accident."

While Vettel made his race debut in Indianapolis, he had already made his "race weekend" debut in the Turkish Grand Prix last August. Driving for BMW Sauber, he only took part in the Friday practice sessions as the team's test driver, but it was part of the official Grand Prix weekend.

Vettel was 19 years and 53 days old at the time. Mike Thackwell previously held the record at 19 years and 180 days old when he practiced for the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Because of a crash at the start of that 1980 race in Canada, the race was declared null and void and restarted. Thackwell did not take part in the restart, so he is an anomaly in the record books of being the youngest ever driver to start a Grand Prix who did not actually start the Grand Prix.

The youngest starters were all 19 years old. Thackwell, if you include him on the list, is the youngest followed by Ricardo Rodriguez, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Tuero, Chris Amon and Vettel.

Vettel set another record in Turkey last year when just nine seconds into his F1 career he earned a $1,000 fine for speeding in the pit lane because he forgot to push the speed limiter button.

I was stuck quite often in traffic. Therefore, it was extremely tough to overtake the other guys there. They are not sleeping, and they know how to defend themselves. So it was extremely tough.

Sebastian Vettel

At Indy this year, Vettel didn't speed in the pits but he was plenty fast out on the track. He qualified seventh, one row behind his experienced teammate Nick Heidfeld.

At the end of the first lap, however, Vettel had been elbowed back to 11th place.

"Pretty wild first corner!" said Mark Webber, one of the drivers who passed Vettel. "I think Sebastian learned a lot."

By lap 56 of the 73-lap United States Grand Prix, Vettel was in ninth place. Then, with five laps to go, Nico Rosberg, who was running in sixth place, came down the main straight with his Williams Toyota on fire because of an oil leak. Vettel thus moved up to eighth place and held on to become the youngest points scorer in F1 history.

Afterwards, Vettel looked fresh but said he felt exhausted more by the mental strain than the physical exertion.

"I tried to prepare myself for this kind of task," he said. "I knew this [a sudden chance to race] could happen. It's just a question of where and when. As a reserve driver, you always have to be fit.

"I think here we were quite lucky to get away with one point. But after all, I think it's good to finish the first race. The car was working well. I could have been a bit quicker."

Vettel's messy first lap that dropped him back in the pack was costly.

"I was stuck quite often in traffic," he said. "Therefore, it was extremely tough to overtake the other guys there. They are not sleeping, and they know how to defend themselves. So it was extremely tough.

"But in the end, I am happy to finish. As I saw the checkered flag, I let out a cry of relief, and therefore I am quite happy for me and for the team. It was fantastic, great fun."

Although he had a great debut, Vettel is heading back to the testing ranks.

BMW Sauber boss Mario Theissen said that Kubica will race again as soon as the doctors give the OK. And that's expected to be in the French Grand Prix on July 1.

Yet Vettel's performance in the United States Grand Prix pretty much insures that he will get a race set sooner rather than later.

Vettel turns 20 on July 3. He still has plenty of time to break another record -- the youngest winner of a world championship Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso set that mark when he won the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix when he was 22 years and 26 days old.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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